Since 1978, history buff Jim Lyons has housed his impressive collection of newspapers in his huge Public Storage unit in Northern California. To ensure his large collection survived the test of time, he learned how to store newspapers early on, preserving historic headlines along the way.
His fondness for newsprint grew over a period of 60 years into a stockpile of tens of thousands of papers that Lyons eventually started selling to other collectors as a business.
“I used to stop by the library and look at the old newspaper collection,” he said. “I used to go for fun – after work – and spend hours there.”
His personal printed history hoard got a jump start when the local library sold him their newspaper archive after switching to microfilm. After that, he bought and sold old newspapers before retiring 20 years ago. Today, he still has more than 30,000 newspapers in storage, including his favorite one.
“On April 19, 1906, three newsrooms burned down in the San Francisco earthquake and fire,” he said. “So those papers got together in Oakland and published the only edition of The Call-chronicle-examiner.”
If you’re passionate about newspaper collecting like Lyons, or perhaps you’re just looking to save clippings from community events and recent historical moments, keep reading for Lyons’s storage tips. We also talked to an expert archivist at the famous Newseum in Washington D.C. for more advice on how keep your newspapers in tip-top shape.
Unfold Newspapers Before Storing to Avoid Damage
Whether you’re storing an entire newspaper or just a few full pages, make sure to unfold the paper to avoid permanent damage, said Kat Wilmot, a Newseum curatorial specialist.
She is responsible for the museum’s newspaper collection, which includes more than 35,000 paper-based materials dating from 1493.
“Newspapers are always folded horizontally, so make sure it’s unfolded so you can see the entire front page,” she said. “If not, the fold will become brittle and split across the middle.” Wilmot’s favorite newspaper in Newseum’s vast collection is the Pennsylvania Journal’s “The Tombstone Edition” from October 31, 1765.
“The front page looks like a big tombstone, because the publisher is protesting the stamp act,” which would tax the newspaper, said Wilmot. “It looks like the paper is dying. Of course, it survived.”
How to Store Newspapers with Archival Supplies
If you’re planning to clip out articles, make sure you use archival supplies – glue, paper and tape – to save them. Both full newspapers and clippings should be stored in archival boxes to avoid damage.
“Don’t store newspapers in regular cardboard boxes or plastic wrap,” Wilmot said. “Don’t use plastic bags that aren’t archival, because they’ll yellow the papers over time. Be careful about the supplies you use.”
If you’re storing papers printed on wood pulp paper (typically those published after 1900), you can purchase deacidifcation spray to increase the newspaper’s lifespan. This process is a good option if you have newspapers or clippings that have already started to yellow or have become brittle, said Wilmot.
“It can cost a couple bucks a page, so I reserve (the spray) for the most expensive papers,” said Lyons.
You can also hire professional conservationist to help you with the deacidification process, if you want to err on the side of caution.
Store Newspaper Collections in Cold, Dark and Dry Spaces
Modern newspapers are extremely acidic and can start to weather within a day, so it’s important to store them away from harmful light as quickly as possible.
“Sunlight is poison to paper,” said Lyons. “Whatever you do, keep your newspapers out of the sun and fluorescent lights.”
Humidity and heat can also damage and weather newspaper, so Wilmot suggests storing your collection in a bedroom closet and away from the attic or basement.
“Climate-controlled storage units are also a good option,” she said.
In addition, your boxes should never be stored on the ground. Lyons uses blocks to keep his collection elevated in his storage unit.
“Do not store directly on the floor, in case of flooding issues that could damage the papers,” said Wilmot. “Keeping them on a shelf would be better.”
Although print newspapers may seem like an outdated form of communication to some, Wilmot said it’s not uncommon for sentimental readers to collect clips, even today.
“When President Obama was elected, we were bombarded with phone calls,” she said. “There’s still an interest out there.”
Bottom photos courtesy of Kat Wilmot.